There are two things I love more than anything in the world. And I mean love with a capital OBSESSION. They are booze & chicks. Hold on, I totally fooled you there! Actually, they are Simon & Garfunkel. No really, they are:
2) Eros & Thanatos (love & death)
My mother is really very supportive. Sure- her precious child could be popping out rosy cheeked grandkids and setting up a nice life for herself. But what’s the fun in that? Instead she’s decided to spend years of her life making almost no money in disgusting jobs in an inexplicable quest to figure out why these two things are so important and why she’s so enamoured with them.
Because if we’re being honest here- corpses and eros & thanatos are concepts I know more viscerally than rationally. You know, ‘flowin through the marrow in my bones type thing. With every fiber of my being I believe they are a crucial missing piece in our understanding of the human animal.
Books have been helpful. Science, philosophy, psychology, death theory, etc. Experience has been even more helpful. Yet it’s a struggle to convey this experience into words, pictures, haikus, songs, puffy paint art, anything that will get people interested. I was kinda just hoping you’d just believe me. Take it as gospel and we’d all move on?
I know that moving ahead I have to just keep writing, just keep working. If I’m putting ideas out there and they fail, or don’t resonate, or aren’t good- that just means they don’t resonate and aren’t good. And that just means I have to be better. Because corpses and eros/thanatos are like the diamond in the rough overweight chess club girl from high school who’s secretly a rocket scientist beauty queen. She deserves the fucking best. Corpses and eros & thanatos deserve the best and I’m going to make sure they get it.
The following story took place when I was but a young, fresh faced idealistic crematory operator lo’ these many years ago. It stars a corpse and is sprinkled with some love and some death. I hope it goes a little way in explaining where I caught the corpse love bug.
Our story begins with a man with no face.
I walked into the body preparation room where Bruce, our embalmer, was preparing an autopsied body. The man that lay on the cold white table did have a head (we’re not talking a decapitation- although I’ve seen those too) he just didn’t have a face. The skin from the crown of his head to the bottom of his chin had been carefully rolled down like a fruit roll-up.
As it turns out, rolling down face flesh like a projection screen is quite common. When a coroner or medical examiner does a head autopsy on a corpse the first thing they do is saw off the top of the skull. After removing the brain, they slap the skull cap back on like a jaunty newsboy cap, slightly askance. It is the job of the funeral home to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
Bruce the embalmer is grumbling, trying to make the skull fit just right and cutting strips of towel to prop up the forehead so it doesn’t look like a topographic map. He grumbles mostly because the crematory supply closet never has what he needs to repair the forehead.
“Well what do you need, Bruce?”
“Some Peanut Butter.”
He doesn’t really need peanut butter. What he needs is a type of mortuary restorative putty known as “peanut butter.” But you know who doesn’t understand this distinction? Me. I buy it hook, line and sinker, and spend the next several weeks disseminating the information that embalmers in funeral homes spread peanut butter around the inside of our heads as a post mortem beauty remedy. Choosy embalmers choose JIF.
The removal of this man’s face had revealed a world of vessels and muscle just beneath the skin, complete with his skull’s wide, menacing smile. It is the deranged smile that lurks just beneath the flesh on everyone’s face, even the frowning, even the sad. In this man’s case- even the dead.
Perhaps this skull knew that Bruce didn’t mean peanut butter like for real peanut butter- peanut butter. It watched my face screw up in confusion and it grinned its grin eternal. It always has been grinning and it will grin forever. This is the way of the skull.
Perhaps this skull would accept its crown of peanut butter and wear it with pride! Like the King in the Carnivale of the Grotesque. It knows the futility of life and the hilarity of death. Skulls laugh while the living cry.
Bruce gently rolled the skin back up like a Halloween mask and whoosh, there he was! The decedent, looking like a totally normal recently dead guy with (after a few more adjustments) a lovely, straight forehead to boot.
But this dead guy wasn’t a totally normal dead guy. Not to me anyway. In the interest of only publishing manageable blog entries, the thrilling conclusion to this story shall be found in Vol.2 of our dastardly tale.
Viva la muerte!
ps- You’re going to spend a lot of time thinking the second part it going to be super transgressive. It’s not. Maybe a little. I don’t fall in love with the corpse if that’s what you’re thinking. You weren’t thinking that? I should probably do some real work now. People are dying. Ok.